Fourteen-year-old Ella Shani received messages on WhatsApp that Hamas terrorists had surrounded her community in Kibbutz Be’eri on the morning of October 7. As she hid with her family in their home, she could hear terrorists trying to break down the doors several times. Staying still from 6:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., when the IDF arrived, she had no idea what was going on outside. All she saw was pleas for help from teenagers on her local WhatsApp group.
When the soldiers finally came, she shielded her younger brother’s eyes from the dead bodies and blood on the ground throughout the kibbutz. She learned that her grandmother had been shot twice and managed to survive for hours until she was rescued. One hundred people on her kibbutz had been killed, including her father, and her cousin, 16-year-old Amit Shani, was taken hostage.
Ella told her harrowing story to the audience at Be the Light, a November 20 gathering in Pico-Robertson featuring pro-Israel activists and musicians talking about what was going on Israel and playing music to heal the soul. As Ella revealed the horrific details – including finding out that a 10-month-old baby at the kibbutz had been murdered – the crowd gasped and broke into tears.
“The place we used to call home became a battlefield and hell,” Ella said. “I remember noticing the difference in the body of an IDF soldier and an Israeli civilian and a terrorist. A terrorist was just shot. They looked like sleeping people. But our people, you can tell just by looking at them they were tortured and killed in the worst way possible.”
The young and traumatized Israeli is currently speaking to communities, raising awareness about Amit and what happened that awful day. At Be the Light, she talked for 20 minutes, never stopping once to cry, because right now, like all Israelis, she is in survival mode.
The event, which was organized by filmmaker Becky Tahel Ben David, her husband Nathan and author Erez Safar, brought up mixed emotions for the audience. MCed by podcast host Shanni Suissa, it started with a guided meditation and a calming rendition of “Hatikvah” on the saxophone and harp. Some speakers expressed their frustration and anger, while others expressed hope for the future.
Matthew Nouriel, founder and director of JIMENA, gave a passionate speech about antisemitism and the failure of the progressive community to speak up for Jews.
“While our fellow Jews grappled with the challenge of ensuring they’re safe not only in Israel but globally, many of our friends in the U.S. want to hold our feet to the fire, demanding that we meet their criteria to be deemed an acceptable kind of Jew worthy of their support. The expectation for us to express our stance against the loss of innocent Palestinian lives as a precondition for even a shred of sympathy has been deeply painful and deeply telling.”
“Antisemitism is the Swiss army knife of political manipulation, skillfully diverting attention from the real troublemakers.” – Eden Cohen
Eden Cohen, founder and president of A Wider Frame, discussed Jew hatred over the years. “We’re the ultimate scapegoat always,” she said. “We’re painted as the shrewdest schemers and society’s deepest loathings. Throughout history, we have weathered relentless false accusations. Why? Because antisemitism is the Swiss army knife of political manipulation, skillfully diverting attention from the real troublemakers.”
Ami Kozak, a comedian who debated with Candace Owens about Israel, came to the event to talk seriously about what’s happening, as opposed to doing standup as usual.
“It should not be brave to condemn antisemitism,” he said. “It’s really important when you speak about this to be clear, to take a side. Taking a side doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Being one-sided doesn’t mean you’re wrong.”
Other speakers and musicians included Duvy Burston, Zeke Finn, Dr. Sheila Nazarian, “Pizza Girl” Caroline D’Amore, House of LEV and Shani Atias. Be the Light is also happening in locations around the country, including Miami and New York.
For now, Ella Shani’s words will stay with the audience, and hopefully, soon, Amit will be returned.
“Is Amit supposed to be away from his family for 45 days?” she said. “Should 240 children, elderly, babies, everyone be away from their home for 45 days? Raise awareness and donate to organizations … Our children are there [in Gaza]. And there is no way to justify it.”
She continued, “All I have is my voice. And I’m doing all I can to spread a message.”
Follow @bethelightseries on Instagram and SAVE THE DATE for the next event, January 29, 2024 in Los Angeles.